International Migrant Day is a valuable reminder of the many hurdles faced by migrants in the world today. From those escaping brutal conflicts to those who simply seek a better life, migrants deserve respect and dignity to match their courage.
Increasingly, identity management plays a critical role in the experience of migrants. Governments started using tools such as biometrics, documents and databases as a way to manage migrant flows. Many of these tools were first used to find criminals and terrorists, and this continues to be a primary motivator. As missions evolved, those same tools were repurposed to track people through the immigration process, providing accurate information to decision makers about eligibility for benefits.
However as field experience has shown, this focus on value to governments leaves migrants with few incentives to participate. When law enforcement, deportation or denial of benefits are perceived as the only reasons that biometrics are collected or identity documents queried, migrants become more likely to remain in the shadows. This reluctance to submit identity information to authorities results in a net loss of security for everyone involved.
Law enforcement and immigration controls will continue to be the primary motivation for governments to use biometrics and other identifiers. Yet those missions would be naturally enhanced if migrants had a clear incentive to participate in identity management.
Having mastered the use of identity management systems for enforcement purposes, governments would do well to demonstrate that those same systems can benefit migrants directly. Using biometrics to deliver services more efficiently, attaching unique benefits to migrants who present verified forms of identity, or even fast-tracking immigration processes for migrants with confirmed biometrics would give the users of identity management an incentive to actively participate.
Bringing migrants “out of the shadows” is a phrase we often hear from politicians and activists, but on a practical level this is easier said than done. Regularizing migration requires an approach that provides clear benefits for migrants while at the same time fulfilling necessary government security requirements.